Where the Buffalo Roam – In Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Oh give me a home
Where the buffalo roams…

In Painted Canyon
In Painted Canyon

They’re called bison, here. But that could be the theme song of Theodore Roosevelt National Park (THRO), in Western North Dakota. Bisons are the signature animal of the park.

But where bears in the Smokies are elusive and solitary, bisons are highly visible. They move in packs and just stay around. They’re not spooked by people or vehicles. The visitors are the ones spooked and don’t get out of their vehicles.

Theodore Roosevelt NP is the only designated national park named after a person. You can’t separate  the man from the park. Teddy Roosevelt first came here from New York  to shoot a bison, before they became extinct. He tried his hand at ranching but like most of his (far-away) neighbors had a hard time making a go of it.

Then a double tragedy struck. Roosevelt lost both his wife and his mother on the same day – Valentine’s Day, 1884. To heal and find solitude, he came back to the area to lose himself in solitude. He started another ranch.  It must have worked since he remarried after a couple of years and went back to New York.

The Baldlands
The Badlands

The Badlands, as this landscape is called, is full of high rocky hills, in between valleys. The trails are marked by poles since there are almost no trees. It’s dry here, not as dry as I experienced in New Mexico, but still I have to make sure I drink, drink, drink.

I walked into the Painted Canyon, where the rocks are red, orange or brown. You really have to pay attention to the main trail since so many social trails shoot out in all directions. There are almost no people on the “backcountry” trails but I managed to meet two women from Canada who took my picture.

The main attraction is a 37-mile loop road with views and trails in the South Unit – the most popular section of the park. You can think of it like a two-lane, paved Cades Cove. Hah!

Prairie Dogs
Prairie Dogs

Again, the long-distance trails aren’t well-signed after the first couple of miles. I really felt alone in this vastness, much more than on a Smokies trail between two row of trees. It’s so quiet here except for the chirping of prairie dogs.

And Teddy Roosevelt? He worked his way up to become our biggest conservation president. He conserved and protected more public land than any other president before and since.

Which goes to show you that it doesn’t matter where you grew up. Even a person from New York City can love our public lands.


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